To university or not to university? That is the question...

Going to university or college can be a life-changing experience – you’ll gain an extra qualification, pick up some key life skills, and live independently. But the choices can be overwhelming.

There are so many universities to choose from and, within each one, hundreds of different courses, so be sure to do your research before making any decisions. Think not only of what you’d like to study, but also where: you’ll be living there for a while, so it’s important that you enjoy your surroundings. Don’t forget to consider your living costs, too.

Tuition fees

Tuition fees are likely to be your biggest cost. These fees are paid direct to your course provider, and can vary depending on where you study and what course you take. (The rules were different before September 2012.)

Here are the maximum costs per course, for 2016 entries, based on where you’re from and where you’d like to study:

If you're from...

England

To study in:

England
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland
Up to £9,000

Wales
Up to £9,000

Scotland
Up to £9,000

Scotland

To study in:

England
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland
Up to £9,000

Wales
Up to £9,000

Scotland
Free

Wales

To study in:

England
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland
Up to £9,000

Wales
Up to £3,900

Scotland
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland

To study in:

England
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland
Up to £3,925

Wales
Up to £9,000

Scotland
Up to £9,000

EU

To study in:

England
Up to £9,000

Northern Ireland
Up to £3,925

Wales
Up to £3,900

Scotland
Free

Other

To study in:

England
Varies

Northern Ireland
Varies

Wales
Varies

Scotland
Varies

Expect to pay up to £9,000 but check in case you can study for free!

Loans, grants and bursaries

If you’re looking at the costs of studying and your heart rate goes up, don’t panic. There are many ways to lighten the financial load – all you need to know is how to apply and when.

These loans are provided by your regional funding body (Student Finance EnglandStudent Finance Wales; Student Finance Northern Ireland; or the Student Awards Agency for Scotland). They are paid directly to the university and you don’t need to start paying back until you’ve finished your course and are earning above a certain level (see ‘What about... paying my loans back?’ for more info).
Whilst applying for a loan to help with your tuition fees, you can also apply for a maintenance loan from the same regional funding body. The amount awarded depends on your circumstances: where you’ll be studying, how long for, what your household income is, etc. This loan will be paid directly into your current account.
Many universities offer awards or bursaries for particular subjects. There’s also help available if you know what you want to do once you have graduated: for example, if your ultimate aim is to work in teaching, social services, or the NHS, funding is available from the relevant bodies for each region (e.g. NHS Student Bursaries England, Teacher Training and Education in Wales and the Scottish Social Services Council).
There are nearly 4,000 scholarships available for students across the UK, many of which are never claimed. The ‘Scholarship Search’ website is a great place to start – search by subject, organisation and level of study.
If you meet certain criteria – for example, if you have a child – there are grants that you can apply for. Your regional funding body will have more information on what’s available and how to apply.
There are thousands of trusts and charities that provide funding to students each year. Look at the Guide to Educational Grants (available at most libraries) and research your local area (or that of your university) to see if there are any smaller, regional trusts. Your students’ union, university careers service or Citizen’s Advice can point you in the right direction.
Student loan applications can take up to six weeks to be processed.

See our 'Spending Wisely' page for tips on how to save money whilst studying.

Flummoxed by finances? Ask your family and friends

For many students, going to university offers the first chance to live away from home. Exciting times but daunting too: so why not ask family and friends for their advice from time to time.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A recent study has shown that young people are more likely to turn to parents for financial advice than anywhere else – by a long way! (52% would go to parents; only 24% would go to a bank.*) Your friends and family know you, understand your situation, and can offer practical ‘workarounds’. For example, knowing your lifestyle as they do, your parents may be able to think of ways that you can budget, saving money in some areas whilst freeing up cash for other expenses.

That’s not to say that you can’t seek independent financial advice: sometimes the recommendations of someone who doesn’t know you so well can have their own advantages. The most important thing is to make sure you ask for help if you need it.

Remember, there are other options.

For some, falling back on family isn’t an option – but that doesn’t mean that there’s no other support network to draw on. As well as advice, many banks offer an interest-free overdraft facility, meaning that you can go over your budget without having to pay additional fees. However, remember that – as with all borrowing – you’ll have to pay this back, so this is not an option to be used lightly. Better to budget carefully and stay within your means.

* Taken from research conducted for ’The Generation Game’ white paper, BNY Mellon, 2014.

What about... paying my loans back?

When?

When you earn £21k or more

Read more ↓

What do I repay?

9% of income over £21k, plus interest

Read more ↓

How do I pay?

Through your salary or via a tax return

Read more ↓

Graduation and beyond

You’ve graduated: what next? Well, there are more exciting things to think about than paying off your student loans, so don’t let that slow you down – though you’ll want to consider your finances sooner rather than later.

The good news is that graduating doesn’t mean you’ll lose all your student-banking perks. You may have an interest-free overdraft for an extended period (up to three years with some). Over time, this will be lowered, encouraging you to repay your debt in stages as your income improves. Despite the fact that you’ll most likely have graduated with some student debt, you’re an attractive customer because you’re qualified and job-ready.

You may be able to keep your interest-free overdraft for up to 3 years post-graduation!